Witch hazel is a natural astringent that humans have long utilized as a remedy for skin problems. In addition to its peculiar name and almost mythic reputation as a cure-all elixir, witch hazel’s properties are perplexing in another way: the nature of its scent. What exactly does witch hazel smell like? Is it supposed to be bad?
Liking or disliking the smell of witch hazel is down to your preferences. If the aroma doesn’t make the cut, foregoing the product or suffering through it aren’t the only options; naturally-fragranced versions from brands like Thayers, Humphreys, and Quinn’s can make your experience with witch hazel not just tolerable, but enjoyable.
Keep reading for a complete explanation of what witch hazel smells like as well as why so many people don’t like that smell. If you’d like to use witch hazel, but don’t like the smell, I’ve also gathered some recommendations for you!
What does witch hazel smell like?
If you look closely at the different products on the market, you’ll notice that many of them are labeled with a fruit or plant smell, which can be confirmed by the use of the word “fragrance” in the ingredients.
The unscented version is usually always an option, however, and its smell is described in a variety of ways. The scent of natural witch hazel is described by some as “woody… like a mild root beer or sarsparilla.”
Witch hazel is derived from the wood, bark, and leaves of elm trees, and that’s likely where the woodiness comes into play. Also described as being unmistakable, clear and piercing, and reminiscent of lemon zest, it’s clear the smell is a little bit difficult to pin down.
Though this mild, natural scent is described favorably by some, others have quite a different experience. It isn’t uncommon for people to have an aversion to the smell, and some even describe it as almost unbearable.
Is witch hazel supposed to stink?
Disliking the smell of witch hazel is a common complaint about the astringent. However, the scent is quite mild, so the average person probably won’t be bothered by it. Those who have an aversion to it seem to have a very strong one, with some describing it as smelling “medicinal.”
Every person’s sense of smell is unique. Natural aversion to or affinity for a particular smell combined with each individual’s keenness or sensitivity to scent makes room for a lot of different impressions a smell can leave. Witch hazel seems to fit well into this, being pleasant to some, neutral to others, and awful to others still.
When it comes to witch hazel, there are a number of unpleasant things that some people liken the scent to. Tequila and vinegar are two common ones. These might be related to the claims of a “medicinal” smell that some describe. Some even jokingly claim to get a whiff of bacon from the product, which shows you just how large the room for interpretation is.
What if witch hazel stinks or smells bad to you?
If on the first sniff, you happen to fall into the category of people who can’t just can’t tangle with the smell of witch hazel, don’t worry – you’re definitely not alone! There are a couple of approaches you can take to get all of the natural benefits of witch hazel without nauseating yourself.
Starting off with the most difficult option: simply getting used to it. Some people do say that over time, the smell doesn’t bother them as much. However, if you want an immediate fix (or are certain that you’ll just never be able to cope with the natural scent), naturally-scented witch hazel does exist!
A wide variety of scented witch hazels are readily available online. With plenty of options to choose from, you’re almost certain to find one that suits your sense of smell.
Witch hazel smells like tequila
If you think your witch hazel smells like tequila, you’re not imagining it!
Some brands may add alcohol to their witch hazel in order to extend the shelf life. The combination of alcohol and the natural scent of the witch hazel may remind you of the smell of tequila.
If you do purchase a witch hazel with alcohol as an ingredient, keep in mind that it will change the way your witch hazel works. While it will help with nicks and cuts, it will sting and it’s likely to dry out or irritate your skin.
Witch hazel smells like vinegar
If you opened your bottle of witch hazel and it smells like vinegar, you’re probably wondering if something is wrong.
If your bottle is new, untampered with, and unexpired, your witch hazel is likely to be good – it just doesn’t smell very good. You can try adding a few drops of essential oil to your bottle to improve the scent.
If, however, your bottle hasn’t always smelled like vinegar, that’s probably a sign that the witch hazel has either been contaminated or has expired, and should be replaced.
Witch hazel smells like bacon
Occasionally you’ll run across a bottle of witch hazel that smells like bacon – what could that possibly mean?
Some people report opening a bottle of witch hazel that smells like bacon and the general consensus is to congratulate them. There is nothing wrong with your bottle – unless you’re trying to avoid eating bacon because you’re going to be craving it after your shave!
How to find witch hazel that smells better (with natural fragrances)
If the smell of witch hazel is unpleasant to you (or even if it’s not, but you’d like to try a new fragrance), you are by no means out of luck. Utilizing various natural fragrances, witch hazel can come with all its benefits, and an added pleasant smell that is sourced totally naturally.
Natural fragrances are key in keeping witch hazel an all-naturally-sourced product. According to the International Fragrance Association (IRFA), all of the ingredients in a natural fragrance are physically obtained from plants without altering their chemical structures.
This way, there’s no need to worry about artificial fragrance compromising the quality of your product or irritating your skin.
Let’s take a look at a few selections of scented witch hazel that might earn a spot in your medicine cabinet:
- Thayers Alcohol-Free Witch Hazel Toner
- Humphreys Nourish Witch Hazel + Aloe Alcohol-Free Toner
- Quinn’s Alcohol-Free Witch Hazel
When all’s said and done, witch hazel in and of itself is a simple, natural astringent with a heaping of health benefits. However, when you’re using a self-care or shaving product, there’s no doubt there are other factors to take into consideration and smell is definitely an important one.
While not everyone seems to mind the smell of witch hazel, it can be repugnant and a potential deal-breaker to others. No one wants to be smelling vinegar on their face all day! That’s why it’s so important to take a look at naturally-fragranced options. A touch of an ingredient sourced straight from a plant is harmless and pleasant and could make the experience well worth it.
Thayers Alcohol-Free Witch Hazel Toner
You’re almost certain to have seen the Thayers Alcohol-Free Witch Hazel Toner in the drugstore or supermarket, marked by its bright red top and distinct bottle. Thayer’s is more than just a pretty package, though; there are good reasons why this omnipresent product stays just that.
Notably, including aloe vera in its mixture for added moisturization, the Thayers witch hazel toner soothes, hydrates, and helps remove excess oil. The most well-known scent is ‘rose petal,’ which uses rose water to further hydrate and strengthen skin. Other available scents are coconut, cucumber, and lavender.
Thayer’s is a widely available, inexpensive option at just $10.95 for a 12fl oz. bottle. With the added benefit of not containing any alcohol (which can be harsh on the skin), this toner is a well-reviewed, well-rounded choice.
Humphreys Nourish Witch Hazel + Aloe Alcohol-Free Toner
A vegan and cruelty-free product, Humphreys Nourish Witch Hazel + Aloe Alcohol-Free Toner has ratings (4.6/5 stars) and reviews that boast its quality. The absence of alcohol in its formula is once again a crucial aspect of this product. Without the abrasively astringent alcohol, your skin is allowed to absorb the full effects of the other ingredients without risking damage.
The various iterations of Humphreys come with slightly varying beneficial ingredients. In the type grapefruit and the type with aloe, the addition of vitamin E helps to keep skin smooth and soft. Humphreys also comes in grapefruit, rose, and lavender scents, in addition to unscented.
As one Amazon reviewer put it: “it’s clean and fresh and definitely has a calming effect on redness. So many toners have too much going on. This will slide easily into your routine and play well with other products.”
Averaging about $10.00/8oz., Humphrey’s is definitely a steal for the quality.
Quinn’s Alcohol-Free Witch Hazel
The least expensive of the three products listed (just by a hair), Quinn’s Alcohol-Free Witch Hazel, has a lot in common with the Humphrys and Thayers varieties. However, a quick cross-reference of the ingredients lists a notable difference.
While Quinn’s shares water, aloe, and some natural fragrance ingredients in common with Thayers and Humphrys, there is one ingredient that doesn’t make the list: phenoxyethanol, the preservative. While unlikely to cause harm when used in concentrations of less than 1%, this chemical can potentially have adverse effects, so its lack of presence in Quinn’s is noteworthy.
Readily available on Amazon in a slightly limited variety of rose petal, pink grapefruit & orange rind, and lavender, Quinn’s Witch Hazel is definitely worth serious consideration. Free of alcohol and without a trace of potentially toxic preservatives, it’s sure to keep your mind at ease and your face smelling of one of its three natural fragrances.
Now that you have some information about what goes into witch hazel toners and why you can make an educated decision on what to try. It might take some trial and error, but finding a blend of witch hazel that passes your sniff test could be a great move for your grooming routine. There are plenty of natural scents to choose from – and they won’t leave you smelling like bacon (unless that’s what you want)!